A Retracted Statement?

A proposal is going to Regional Synod East in November which puts forward a change to article 14 of the Belgic Confession. This proposal is designed to clear up the confusion that currently exists in the Canadian Reformed Churches regarding origins. We have those who claim that the Three Forms of Unity in their existing state rule out any notion of human evolutionary origins. On the other hand, we have Reformed Academic asserting, and I quote, “Theistic evolution is not outside the boundaries of the Three Forms of Unity.” There are a fair number who agree with Reformed Academic. Who is right? Our churches urgently need clarity on this question.

The proposal quotes from two outspoken scientists in our churches. They are quoted partly as representatives of the view that theistic evolution should be tolerated – after all, they are founding editors of Reformed Academic, men who stand behind the quote above. One of those scientists is Dr. Jitse Van der Meer. He proceeds beyond the view that theistic evolution should be tolerated. He is quoted in the proposal as writing, among other things, the following:

Fourthly, there is the irreversible hierarchical structure of the classification of living things. If animals living today would have been created by fiat creation rather than by evolutionary creation, there would have been no hierarchical branching pattern unless the Creator would have wanted those who investigate such matters to believe there had been a history which never actually occurred. Since the Creator does not deceive us I am led to the conclusion that He created animals by means of an evolutionary process thereby giving us a real evolutionary history.

Dr. Van der Meer made this statement in a public online discussion with one of the Providence office bearers. You can find the original context here at Reformed Academic – the quotation can be found in the comments of Dr. Van der Meer on January 2.

The use of this quote in the proposal has been disputed. In this blog post, Rev. Bill DeJong alleges that this statement was retracted. Moreover, he claims (under point 9), that this retraction was done publically and the drafters of the proposal completely ignored this. Of course, this calls into question the integrity of the drafters and the credibility of the proposal. Regrettably, others have echoed these claims. These claims therefore deserve some further investigation.

I have searched on Reformed Academic for Dr. Van der Meer’s public retraction of this statement made in response to Providence deacon Herman van Barneveld. I have not been able to find it. Dr. Van der Meer did not retract this statement in the following comments under that blog post, nor did he issue a retraction of that statement in any subsequent blog post on Reformed Academic. One would think that this blog would be the natural place to issue such a public retraction. Moreover, if it was publically retracted, why is the statement still out there on the blog as if it continues to be Dr. Van der Meer’s position? It’s still there, still sowing confusion. If I had made a statement and later learned that I was in error, I would want to make an effort to correct my error. If it was a public error, I would want to make the correction publically and remove the error.

Readers should notice that Rev. DeJong and others have supplied no reference to support their claim. I want to ask Rev. DeJong: where, exactly, did Dr. Van der Meer publically retract that statement made in the context of his response to Herman van Barneveld? Rev. DeJong needs to provide the evidence to support his claim. And then a follow-up question: if Dr. Van der Meer perhaps retracted a similar statement used in a different context, where did he retract that and exactly why? Did he perhaps change his mind? Or was it merely a matter of proof-reading/editing with no real change in his position?

Now I know that my colleague Rev. DeJong wants to promote justice and truth – and I respect him for that. However, these same virtues also behoove him to share with his readers the whole story behind this “retraction.”  Once the entire body of evidence is considered in context, I believe it will be clear that the drafters and adopters of this proposal acted honestly and with the integrity expected of office bearers in Christ’s church.